The large assembly of travellers gathered outside the London railway station seemed to be stunned: they had just heard the announcement of a strike at British railways and that they will be taken to Dover coast by bus, to be ferried across the channel and there, at Oostend, their connecting train will be waiting for them.
The whole replacement schedule seemed a bit ad hoc to them and while they are still shocked about the news of the strike, everybody doubted that it will be possible to reach the connecting train on the continent on schedule. The dreary thought sunk into their brain: What if we miss this connecting train on the continent? How will we get across Europe to our distant point of destination?
The mass of desperate people got bigger all the time as new fellow travellers kept arriving.
Despair started to sink-in and spread. People from all parts of the world started to find each other by their mother tongue or the nearest common language they could speak. Together they chatted in highly alarmed voices and exchanged their thoughts about British Railways, England in general and the cheek of having a strike at the travellers’ most inconvenient time.
What if the busses had a strike as well? There is no such transport in sight and it’s already time to depart for the coast. Rumours had it that one such bus was already on the way, that it had left very early with the first batch of tourists. Do they have only one bus working? That would be nowhere enough to solve the travellers’ needs.
The international crowd is still growing with new arriving tourists being informed of the strike whilst their faces dropped.
It was a misery day, there was fog in the morning and it had barely lifted when it started to drizzle. The crowd huddled together under a shelter of a large bus station, muttering to each other and some to themselves. The few railway workers that still had the nerve to show themselves, seem to sense the people’s desperation and tried to cheer them up.
Somebody with a heavy Welsh accent called out: ’Come out in the rain – I will sing for you!’
This attempt at humour failed miserably and something like a dog-like growl emanated from the mass of desperados and words like ‘bloody jokes’ in various accents could be heard.
Now, a new sound emerged: that of travellers who were freezing by now and with their feet scraping the concrete floor of the large bus depot where they huddled together.
Suddenly their mood changed: A bus was arriving and pulling up into the depot. It was very dirty and really looked like having done a long trip in inclement weather. Grime and dirt was thickly around the wheels and the tyres were covered thickly with mud.
Whilst everybody grabbed their luggage in order to storm into this bus – nothing happened. That behemoth of a vehicle stood silent for a seemingly long while. Then it slowly opened and the driver stepped out with some paperwork and disappeared into an office.
All this went on far too slowly for the masses and loud protest could be heard from the irate masses. Especially a women with a heavy German accent – very Prussian, actually – became increasingly vociferous. Probably being unaccustomed to train strikes in her native Berlin, people could only agree with her loud exclamation about the prevailing situation: ‘Zis iss impossiple!’
After a perceived eternity, the office door opened and the bus driver came out, carefully carrying a cup of tea in this hands. Leasurely, he went to his bus and luxuriously eased himself into his drivers seat.
Now, the passengers had their tickets checked – with unnerving calmness - by a mate of the driver – same uniform and detached attitude - and there was a quick storming of the bus. Some lucky ones seated themselves and held expectantly their breath, however, nothing happened as the driver appeared to be oblivious to the necessity of speeding off to the coast.
Slowly, he took his sips of tea, luxuriously enjoying it’s flavour before swallowing.
Enraged cries could now be heard: first the strike and now the bus is not moving! Especially the German woman could not control herself any longer. Rushing through the bus to the driver, she bent towards him and hissed menacingly at him: ’Vat iss dis? First zer iss a strike and ve vere told zat ze busses vill take us to ze coast but zer vas no bus anyvere. Finally you come mit ze bus, but now, you are not moving but go zip zip zip…….’
It was suddenly very quiet in the bus and the prevalent atmosphere was that of complete solidarity with the German woman. They nodded to each other in agreement and their expression seem to say: ’Trust the Germans to put things succinctly. Bless her for speaking up for all of us!’
The bus driver pulled in his neck slightly at hearing his mother tongue spoken in such a fashion. However, he took another ‘zip’ from his cup after which he slowly and placidly addressed her: ’Madam! I have just been to the coast and back, a two-hour-trip each way. Which means that I have been four hours on the road. Now, I have another four hour trip in front of me – I am surely entitled to a cup of tea!’
Whilst this was spoken with a calm conviction, with a Cockney accent and reaffirmed with a nod, it had a devastating effect on the passengers. Suddenly, as the woman made her way back to her seat everybody backed away from her, seemingly not wanting to have anything to do with her. Again, they nodded to each other and their expression seem to betray their thoughts: ‘Bloddy Germans! Nothing but trouble makers. Let the poor man have his well earned cuppa – he is hard working!